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CityPlace’s Rail Deck Park, the story behind the vision

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City staff are expected to give a report by year’s end about the intricacies of building a park over the railway in the CityPlace neighbourhood.

The “Rail Deck Park” would run from Blue Jays Way to Bathurst Street. A $2.4 million budget has been set aside to study the idea.

“This is a long term, civic project, but the opportunity needs to be secured now,” city spokesperson Bruce Hawkins told 416 Magazine.

Hawkins said staff would look at options to “enhance growth-oriented revenues” to help fund building the park, a price yet to be established.

Those revenues, said Hawkins, will come from new local development in the form of cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication. A municipality can require a developer to provide cash-in-lieu under Section 42 of Ontario’s Planning Act (OPA).

Also under the OPA are Section 37 benefits and development charges which “leverage the value of development activity to fund necessary supporting infrastructure investments,” Hawkins explained.

It’s not out of the question that private donations, sponsorships and grants from senior levels of government can help fund capital and long-term park operations and maintenance.

The idea to build the park originates from another city planning report called TOCore: Planning Downtown. With the help of public consultation, the report aims to create a blueprint for a connected, expanded and diverse parks and public realm system in Downtown, according to Hawkins.

“The work completed under TOcore is pointing to the urgent need to address park provision in one of the most park-deficient areas of the city,” said Hawkins.

Heading up the $2.4 million preliminary report is the city’s planning department along with support from other city divisions including Parks, Forestry & Recreation, Engineering and Construction Services, Corporate Finance and the Toronto Office of Partnerships.

“The next round of work will provide a preliminary estimate of the investments required to construct the actual rail deck park,” said Hawkins.

He said city staff have looked at similar projects in other cities to get an idea of the range of costs. In their 2017 report staff will give an update on the timeline they expect for the park’s construction. It could be completed in phases.

Asked about the reality of constructing such a park—considering a news report that says the city already has $30 billion in unfunded infrastructure projects—here’s Hawkins reply:

“The increased population in this area of the city will require services and facilities to ensure that the quality of life of those who live Downtown is maintained.  Parkland is an important part of the City’s infrastructure, as are transit, and many other services. Parkland contributes to the quality of life, especially on health.”

Requiring attention in the preliminary report is the matter of other entities that have rights along the rail corridor. To name just a few, those include CN, Metrolinx and Toronto Terminals Railway.

“Our initial high-level review indicates properties can have upwards of 10-20 registered documents on title relating to various types of agreement,” according to Hawkins.

“The City will conduct an extensive title search on the required properties/interests as the first step to determine ownerships and who the City will need to contact and initiate discussions. Building over an active rail line is complex,” noted Hawkins.

As part of the implementation, strategy discussions will be required with interested parties about the technical requirements of building a park above a rail line.

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